Hardier than cockroaches or Keith Richards, tardigrades can live anywhere, even in Japanese parking lots. Credit: Sebastian Kaulitzki/Science Photo Library/Getty Images
Digging under a small rock picked up in a Japanese parking lot – not the most glamorous pursuits – has paid off for scientists who have discovered an entirely new species of tardigrade.
Tardigrades are a very well known group of small animals – micrometazoansin the jargon – famous for being pretty much indestructible.
The animals, colloquially known as water bears or moss piglets, are usually no more than half a millimeter long and have eight legs. They have proven to be extremely resilient and survive conditions that would be fatal to almost all other living things, such as extreme temperatures, extreme pressures, dehydration, starvation, and radiation.
At the end of the world it will be the tardigrades, not the cockroaches, that will survive.
Members of the phylum tardigrade have been found living in the deep ocean and in mud volcanoes. Most, however, hang out in the moss.
For this reason, a small group of tardigrade researchers led by Daniel Stec of Jagiellonian University in Poland, recently decided to take a close look at a piece of moss-covered concrete found lying in a parking lot in the Otsuka-machi district of Tsuruoka. . City in Japan.
They took the mass back to a lab and discovered that it housed 10 individual tardigrades. These were placed in separate habitats and cultured, producing small populations that could then be analyzed and classified using phase contrast optical microscopy (PCM), scanning electron microscopy (SEM) and DNA sequencing.
One of them turned out to be a completely new species, a determination made based on adult anatomy and filaments found attached to its eggs.
Stec and his colleagues named the species Macrobiotus shonaicus, and formally describe it in an article in the journal PLOS One. This discovery brings the total number of tardigrade species discovered so far in Japan to 168.
The animals were first identified by zoologist Johann August Ephrain Goeze in 1773. Since then, around 1200 species have been found worldwide, with their numbers increasing by around 20 each year.
Andrew Masterson is a former editor of Cosmos.
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